Readers might have noticed that while I’ve done Australian Animals, Beasties in our Garden and talked about the Zoo ad nauseum, I’m suspiciously silent on plants. This is because as well as the black thumb any botany genes passed me by. Although putting this list together I realised that I’d actually soaked up a fair bit over the years, so here are some Australian plants.
- Gum trees or Eucalypts – this is an entire group, not just one plant. One of their major features is specialisations to make them water saving. Their leaves are narrow and hang down to present little surface to the sun and they have a waxy coating to protect them from evaporation. They are also full of oils, which smell lovely and clear your nose quickly but are poisons to discourage animals and insects.
- Blackboys – I think the politically correct name is now grass trees, but they will always be blackboys to me. They have long, square woody leaves growing out from the central stem. When fires go through it burns off the leaves, leaving a black ‘trunk,’ in fact if they aren’t burnt regularly they become sick. They can grow really big, I once saw one as tall as a tree with 7 heads. They have a wonderful flower spike that grows up from the middle with thousands of tiny flowers on it.
- Tea-tree – has nothing to do with tea you drink. It is a narrow leaved paperbark found in swampy areas with beautiful white flowers. It is used commercially to distill its essential oil, which is a very popular natural anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. Great on cuts and grazes and smells lovely!
- Golden Wattle – Australia’s official floral emblem is an acacia with fluffy golden flowers, and grey-green feathery leaves.
- Spinifex – as a kid when I first saw this we said “Fluffy grass!” And as anyone who has walked through it knows, we couldn’t have been more wrong. An incredibly sharp and prickly grass that grows in desert areas. It starts growing like a ball pincushion with tall seed heads coming out, then the centre dies and it continues growing out. You can sometimes get spinifex rings a couple of metres across.
- Kangaroo Paw – WA’s stunning floral emblem. The flowers are shaped that way to make birds put their beaks inside to get the nectar, pollinating them at the same time. There are several species with this common name, including some yellow varieties, but most people recognise the beautiful red and green ones. They grow from an underground bulb which can survive bushfires and have long, strap-like leaves.
- Mulga – Desert acacias, there are probably several species. They are well adapted to desert conditions with needle-like leaves with thick skin and oil to reduce evaporation. They also drop their leaves to form a thick mulch around themselves and reduce water loss. Mulga scrub is a distinct environment in eastern Australia.
- Sturt’s Desert Pea – Named after the famous explorer, this is a member of the pea family. It is usually a prostrate shrub, running along the ground and produces very hard seeds that are well protected from the desert. The flowers are beautiful, especially next to the grey green leaves.
- Sturt’s Desert Rose – a close relative of cotton and member of the hibiscus family. These are my favourite flowers with 5 petals arranged as a whorl, pale pink or lavendar on the outside and deep purple in the centre with a small cotton boll. They have round leaves with a strong, distinctive smell when crushed.
- Casuarina – These look very similar to conifers but are actually tropical plants throughout SE Asia, Australia and South America. The green jointed ‘needles’ are twigs and the leaves are tiny spikes in a ring around the joints. They have a spiky, woody fruit. The wood is traditionally valuable and they are important in slash and burn gardens to replenish the soil nutrients.
- Grevilleas – A close relative of the hakea, there are around 350 species of grevillea in Australia with these distinctive woolly flowers. They produce a sweet nectar loved by birds and people alike, it used to be drunk from the flower or mixed with water to make a sweet drink.
- Bottlebrush – A group of species related to tea trees with clumps of spiky flowers that look like bottle brushes.
- Banksia – Only found in Australia and some northern islands, they are related to proteas, hakeas and grevilleas. They have very distinctive flower spikes that turn to cones and produce winged seeds. The Banksia Men were the villians in May Gibbs famous Gumnut Baby stories. The Proteaceae family of plants has a Gondwanic distribution, they are found in Australia, Africa, India and South America, which were all joined in the super continent of Gondwanaland long ago. The common ancestor must have been found there.
Enjoy this article? Subscribe to the weekly newsletter to hear about them all. Or grab my RSS feed